Boundary study shows Forks meets NPS criteria

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 25, 2009

NATCHEZ — The Forks of the Road site is fit for National Park Service ownership.

The findings of the Forks of the Road boundary study conducted by NPS are in, and the site has met the necessary criteria, Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins said.

Three major criteria make it eligible for NPS ownership — able to be developed for public enjoyment related to the purposes of NPS, feasible to administer and best managed by the NPS.

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Two other criteria were on the list, but were not applicable to this situation, both involving buying extra plots of land to develop or make accessible the site.

The boundary study kicked off when Sen. Thad Cochran appropriated approximately $150,000 for the study in 2005.

Jenkins said the actual study did not start rolling until 2006, though.

But three years in the making, Jenkins said the study is still not yet finalized.

She said there are some legal issues that need to be hammered out with the NPS headquarters in Atlanta.

“The review process is sometimes a long process,” she said.

The boundary study has not been intentionally delayed, she said, it’s just taken a while to complete, Jenkins said.

“We’re all very busy people,” Jenkins said. “There has certainly been no intentional stalling.”

City Grants Coordinator Brett Brinegar, who has been working with NPS on the boundary study, said she anticipates at least four more weeks before the study is complete.

“It needs to be finished to the satisfaction of the National Park Service because they’re the ones paying (for the study.),” she said.

After the study is final, the site’s long-term ownership will have to be decided.

When the city was appropriated $1.3 million from the state legislature for overlaying several downtown streets, $500,000 was appropriated for Forks of the Road site development, as well.

But the city failed to apply for the $1.3 million and the $500,000.

Only half of the $1.3 million was recovered, and the $500,000 Forks money is still in limbo.

Brinegar said the city is still working to rectify the situation in order to get the half million dollars.

“We submitted the application,” she said. “We have to do a few more administration things.”

One of which is having the board adopt a resolution to apply for the money, something Brinegar said she will request at the board’s Tuesday meeting.

“We are in the process of getting that money, it’s just a lot of paperwork,” she said.

Jenkins said if the city gets the money, it would be wise for the ownership of the site to remain under the city so those funds can be utilized.

If city officials transfer the property to the NPS, the $500,000 will be nullified, as it’s only for city use.

“In a best case scenario, the city would proceed with some site development using those state funds,” Jenkins said.

After that, NPS could take over the site.

Mayor Jake Middleton said that’s the long-term plan at this point.

But even though the property is city owned, he said both entities are working closely together.

“We want to put something on that piece of property that is pleasing to everyone involved, but yet something that would be agreeable with the National Park Service should, down the road, we deed this over to them,” he said.

The City of Natchez, NPS and the Friends of the Forks of the Road have picked up another partner in the site development — the Tulane Regional Urban Design Center in the School of Architecture. Director Grover Mouton has obtained a $20,000 grant from the National Arts Endowment for site planning and design.